UFC's Leah more than just a pretty face

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

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Rachelle Leah returns to her old job as an Octagon Girl on Oct. 25 at UFC 90.
(Image courtesy UFC)

She's got the quick wit and the courage to trade barbs with acid-tongued UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin and come out none the worse for wear.

She's got the thoughtfulness and the insight to draw a meaningful response from its former middleweight king and school teacher Rich Franklin.

And she has the playful spirit and exuberant personality to portray a side of Anderson Silva that American fans have yet to see of the UFC middleweight champion.

Yet Rachelle Leah is as much a mystery to mixed martial arts fans as some of the subjects she profiles in her role as host on Spike TV's wildly popular documentary series, "UFC All Access."

To most MMA fans, she's simply been known as the leggy octagon girl, who carried the round card around the cage. And, to be sure, that's all that some want to know of her, as a girl who looks great in a bikini top and a pair of ultra short shorts.

Leah, who will return to her old job for one more night when she shares the duty with Arianny Celeste at UFC 90 on Oct. 25 at the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Ill, is a lot more than another pretty face.

Yeah, she's Playboy's November cover girl, which will hit newsstands on Friday. She was the UFC's most popular octagon girl and she just signed a deal as a spokesmodel with Anheuser-Busch.

While none of those jobs require a degree from Harvard, it's selling Leah short to believe she's making a living solely from her looks.

She is brash and thoughtful and introspective and witty and plenty crafty. She uses her share of coarse language, her conversation invariably turns to sports and, most significantly, guys, she loves – absolutely loves – mixed martial arts.

Spend a half-hour talking with the Las Vegas resident and it's no different than talking to your buddies about MMA, except you realize you're speaking with one of the world's most beautiful women.

Other than that, she can hang with the best of them when it comes to talking MMA.

And that is one of the reasons her show, "UFC All Access," has been so successful. It's a ratings hit, even though there are no shots of Leah in a bikini. It's all about telling a story about the fighter.

She knows most of the fighters and their stories intimately and collaborates with producer Anthony Giordano on which direction she wants to each episode. She spends time with the fighter in his home with his family and at the gym, watching him work out preparing for an upcoming fight.

What she has discovered about most mixed martial artists in general is that the large majority of them fit into one category.

"So they're real and so down to Earth," she said. "They're so completely family oriented, but they fight because they're passionate about fighting and because they know what it can do for them and their families.

"People for some reason just tend to assume they're hard-core party animals. When they're in Vegas after a fight at their after party that is being put on by one of their sponsors, it might look that way, but the guys I know, most of them want nothing to do with that lifestyle. They want to fight and get out of their and get home to be with their families."

Most of the fighters are open and accessible with her and she said she especially enjoyed her time with Silva. She was shocked to learn that the world's top fighter is a light-hearted man who loves to laugh and joke, who enjoys paintball games and playing soccer in the yard with his kids.

But Leah said she had an odd experience with former UFC light heavyweight contender Renato "Babalu" Sobral, who wanted to keep her apart from his family. So Leah, who is normally on the scene when the crews film the fighters at home with their families, stayed away and only was with Sobral when he was at the gym.

"I didn't understand that, but if that's what he wanted and his wife wanted, fine," she said. "I would never date a fighter, ever, ever, ever, not ever in a hundred million years. You couldn't pay me any amount of money to date a fighter. That's a separate part of my life. I guess some people are super insecure and there are trust issues that causes problems. We just need to get the B-roll and I don't need to be there."

Leah said she sought the support of her family before accepting the offer to appear in Playboy. Despite fears she might get some negativity, she said everyone was completely encouraging.

She filmed a movie, "The Bleeding," which will be released next year which also features Armand Assante, Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones.

"That (stuff)'s huge," Leah says, sounding more like one of 18-to-34-year-old members of the UFC's male demographic than a demure 24-year-old female model.

She called landing the Playboy cover "huge, huge, huge," and said she couldn't have seen herself as a 20-year-old saying yes to such an offer.

The most difficult part of posing nude, she said, was both taking off her clothes in front of people whom she hadn't met, but also wondering what the reaction of people who saw the magazine would be.

She said she felt a connection with photographer Stephen Wayda and said the photographs were excellent as a result.

"It makes you nervous (to do the nude photos)," Leah said. "The thing about America in general is that people pass judgment so easily. But my deal with it is, getting naked around people I don't know is very scary. I already have a hard time putting on the octagon girl outfit in front of an arena. The only time I'm comfortable being semi-nude or in a bathing suit like that is on a beach.

"Obviously, it's nerve wracking. But I got in there with some of the most professional people I have ever worked with and one of the most talented photographers I've had the opportunity to collaborate with. He made wonderful artwork. I knew this would be a great opportunity for me and it's been better than I could ever have imagined. And it's only just begun."